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Ursula Nordstrom
Born (1910-02-02)February 2, 1910
Manhattan, New York
Died October 11, 1988(1988-10-11) (aged 78)
New Milford, Connecticut
Occupation Editor, author
Genre Children's literature
Partner Mary Griffith

Ursula Nordstrom (February 2, 1910 – October 11, 1988) was publisher and editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row from 1940 to 1973. She is credited with presiding over a transformation in children's literature in which morality tales written for adult approval gave way to works that instead appealed to children's imaginations and emotions.

She also authored the 1960 children's book The Secret Language. A collection of her correspondence was published in 1998, as Dear Genius: the Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.


Early life

Ursula Nordstrom was born in Manhattan on February 2, 1910 to Henry E. Dixey and Marie Nordstrom, vaudeville comedians, and grew up in New York City. She took business courses at The Scudder School for Girls in New York.


Nordstrom was hired in 1936 as a clerk in the textbook department of Harper & Brothers, and later as an assistant in the Harper Books for Boys and Girls section for Louise Raymond. She was promoted to Harper's editor in chief of the Department of Books for Boys and Girls in 1940 after Raymond adopted a baby girl and announced her retirement. In 1960 she became Harper's first female vice president. She disliked the genteel, sentimental tone of American children's literature and sought to bring children crimes and punishments of fellow miscreants with books like Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (1963) and Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret. Her unorthodox outlook on publishing and lack of educational pedigree is best summed up by her motto “good books for bad children" and took risks with affection and ferocity. For Nordstrom and her authors and illustrators, it was felt that the best book results when author and illustrator have a good working relationship which gave way to partnerships between Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak; and Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd.

Many of her colleagues and competition thought her books were ahead of their time, yet Harper's books received three Newbery Medals and two Caldecott Medals during her tenure. Nonetheless, Nordstrom edited some of the milestones of children's literature, including E. B. White's Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952), Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon (1947), Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur (1958), Karla Kuskin's Roar and More (1956), and Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974). Other authors she edited included Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ruth Krauss, Charlotte Zolotow, John Steptoe, M.E. Kerr, and Arnold Lobel, among others.

Nordstrom stepped down as publisher in 1973, but continued on as senior editor with her own imprint, Ursula Nordstrom Books, until 1979. She was succeeded at Harper's by her protege, author Charlotte Zolotow, who began her career as Nordstrom's stenographer.

Death and legacy

In 1972, Nordstrom was a recipient of the Women's National Book Association's Constance Lindsay Skinner Award. In 1980, she was the first woman and children's publisher to receive the Association of American Publishers' Curtis Benjamin Award.

Nordstrom died in 1988, aged 78, from ovarian cancer. With her at the time of death was her longtime companion, Mary Griffith. In 1989, she was posthumously inducted into the Publishing Hall of Fame. In 1998, Nordstrom's personal correspondence was published as Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (illustrated by Maurice Sendak), edited by Charlotte Zolotow.

Publishing highlights

Publishing highlights
Date Title Author Significance
1942 Seventeenth Summer Maureen Daly Credited as the first book written for teenagers.
1942 The Runaway Bunny Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Clement Hurd
1945 Stuart Little E. B. White, ill. by Garth Williams Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
1945 The Carrot Seed Ruth Krauss, ill. by Crockett Johnson
1947 Goodnight Moon Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Clement Hurd
1949 My World Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Clement Hurd
1952 Charlotte's Web E. B. White Newbery Honor Book, Horn Book Fanfare, Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, Massachusetts Children's Book Award
1953 A Very Special House Ruth Krauss, ill. by Maurice Sendak Caldecott Medal Honor
1955 Harold and the Purple Crayon Crockett Johnson
1956 Harry the Dirty Dog Gene Zion, ill. by Margaret Bloy Graham
1956 Roar and More Karla Kuskin
1958 Danny and the Dinosaur Syd Hoff
1961 The Silly Book Stoo Hample
1963 Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present Charlotte Zolotow, ill. by Maurice Sendak Newbery Honor Book
1963 Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak winner of the Caldecott Medal
1964 Harriet the Spy Louise Fitzhugh
1964 It's Like This, Cat Emily Cheney Neville winner of the Newbery Medal
1964 The Giving Tree Shel Silverstein
1965 The Long Secret Louise Fitzhugh
1966 Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories Isaac Bashevis Singer, ill. by Maurice Sendak Newbery Honor Book
1969 I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip John Donovan
1969 Stevie John Steptoe Written and illustrated by 19 year old African-American author and presented a first-person account, in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), about the main character's feelings as a foster brother
1970 In the Night Kitchen Maurice Sendak
1974 Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein
  • The Secret Language, 1960
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